By Katie Kresly.
Like many districts, Highline Schools faces the challenge of slumping academics. According to Washington State (OSPI), we are in the bottom 20% of the state, so last week Burien-News invited all four Highline School Board Candidates to give their input, “How Do We Improve Academic Results?”
Three of the four candidates responded, Michael T Lewis, Carlos Ruiz and Melissa Petrini, so here are all three answers in the order we received:
Michael T Lewis – District 1 Candidate
Improving academic results is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a combination of various strategies and approaches. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, I can provide you with some general suggestions that have worked well in my school and have been proven to enhance academic performance. I can tell you that simply returning to reading, writing and arithmetic is the easy answer, but certainly not a comprehensive solution.
Creating a welcoming and conducive learning environment is crucial. This includes ensuring that students have access to necessary resources such as textbooks, technology, and a well-equipped classroom. Additionally, promoting a positive and inclusive classroom culture where students feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and ideas safely can greatly enhance their engagement and motivation to learn. I would start on day one advocating that our children will benefit from MTSS¹ (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support), a framework that looks at children and their holistic needs, so a path to success can be developed.
Well-trained and passionate educators make a significant difference in students’ academic outcomes. Encouraging professional development opportunities for teachers, such as training in The Science of Reading using LETRS² and Neural Education³, can help them stay updated with the latest teaching methodologies and strategies. Moreover, fostering a collaborative relationship between teachers, students, and parents can create a support system that nurtures academic growth. I would also advocate for a ban on homework at the elementary level. There is absolutely no data that shows homework improving academic outcomes.
Individualized instruction is also key to improving academic results. Recognizing that each student has unique learning needs and styles, tailoring teaching methods to accommodate these differences can greatly enhance their understanding and retention of knowledge. This can be achieved through differentiated instruction, where teachers adapt their teaching approaches to meet the diverse needs of their students.
Furthermore, promoting a growth mindset among students can have a profound impact on their academic performance. Encouraging them to believe in their ability to learn and grow, rather than being limited by fixed notions of intelligence, can foster resilience and a willingness to take on challenges. Emphasizing effort, perseverance, and the value of mistakes as learning opportunities can help students develop a positive attitude towards learning.
Lastly, a holistic approach to education that goes beyond academics is essential. Encouraging extracurricular activities, promoting physical and mental well-being, and fostering a sense of community can contribute to students’ overall development and, consequently, their academic success.
Remember, improving academic results is a continuous process that requires collaboration and ongoing evaluation, not just high-stakes testing. By implementing these strategies with integrity and adapting them to the specific needs of our students, we can create an environment that supports and empowers students to achieve their full potential.
As a Highline School Board Director, my primary responsibilities would be to manage the district’s superintendent, budget overview and approval, and the creation and review of district wide policies. Appropriate and sustained focus on these duties will support improved academics in Highline Public Schools.
If elected to the role of District 4 Director, I intend to model plans to improve academic results based on the high standards at Marvista Elementary where I am currently Vice President of the PTA. I will leverage programs, methods, and the use of targeted instructional time successfully used at Marvista and customize those approaches to suit the unique needs of each school in the district. I will use my experience working on several boards of directors to spend money on data-driven curriculum and instruction that align with our new strategic goals while maintaining fiscal responsibility.
I will convene work study sessions with district leadership and the community on how the district is measuring student growth over time in all these areas, including literacy, STEM, the arts, and social/emotional learning. District leadership must be held accountable for student achievement results and those results must be brought about by using *academic research to develop 21st century learning models. Now is not the time to revert to methods of former decades because our children have different needs today. We must teach the whole child and surround their educational experience with a sense of belonging and acceptance, fostering academic as well as artistic abilities. Furthermore, our families must be given the tools to understand the results of assessments that measure student overall growth. I will use my experience as a parent of 2 children currently attending a school in the district to guide me in this critical role.
In my extensive experience in community work, I know we cannot address academic success without looking at the whole child. I have a proven track record of engaging various individuals and organizations to build consensus and engagement to solve challenging problems. I look forward to your vote in November so I can bring that approach to the Highline School District.
Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade
Five years ago, my family moved to Normandy Park and we enrolled our children in the Highline schools, but I later discovered that my 4th grader at Marvista Elementary could not read and was falling way behind. Even with a 504 Educational Plan, I didn’t feel that my child was getting the help and academic support she needed as outlined in state laws. It took me four years of dedicated one-on-one time to remediate and bring her up to speed.
According to Washington State law, “the goals of each school district… shall be to provide opportunities for every student to develop the knowledge and skills essentials to: (1) Read with comprehension, write effectively, and communicate successfully…; (2) Know and apply the core concepts and principles of mathematics; social, physical, and life sciences; civics and history…”
The first step to any problem is to acknowledge the issue and then face it head on. OPSI Chris Reykdal, discussed in a podcast interview in August that the State Reporting Assessments is not really a comprehensive indicator or measurement of our students’ success. To which we must ask, as parents, ‘what is the metric or quantitative measure we should be comparing the health of our schools’ academic performance, if not the standardized testing?’
Highline adopted in June of this year a Strategic Plan, outlining the fundamental priorities for the district: Culture of Belonging, Innovative Learning, Bilingual & Biliterate and being Future Ready. Innovative Learning is defined as creating “academic experiences that engage, empower, and challenge every student.” While it is good to pay attention to experiences, is this achieving state required standards? How does this translate when applying for college or future employment?
As a Highline director, I would suggest improving academic success for all students by returning to science-based learning strategies and methods, especially for reading, our most fundamental learning building block. Across the nation, reading fell over the past two decades, even pre-pandemic, as we moved away from teaching phonetics and other time-tested tools that students can build upon. This type of foundational language instruction is even more important for English Language Learners.
Ideally, we could use some of the remaining ESSER, Covid Relief funds to pay for private tutors, as seen in other recovering districts.
Highline has continued to lag behind other neighboring districts so we must place academics at the top of their priority list. I believe in our students’ capabilities, our teachers’ dedication, and our supportive community to rally around to help them succeed. As a director, I want to help keep Highline’s Promise of helping students to graduate “prepared for the future they choose.”
Thank you for your vote – Melissa Petrini